Race and Ethnicity - Ethnic group influence in foreign policy: pro and con

An argument made against ethnic influence on foreign policy is that such influence is likely to spring from emotional loyalties rather than rational objectives. The goals of U.S. foreign policy can be summarized as military security, protection of economic interests, and minimization and peaceful settlement of international disputes. Ethnicity certainly has no obvious relation to any of these goals, and to the extent that it might be in conflict with them, it is an improper influence.

What this argument ignores is that the rational objectives articulated by professional policymakers generally omit such "emotional" factors as fairness to downtrodden or impoverished peoples. This has usually been the case with respect to colonial or dictatorial governments friendly to the United States. Such governments, especially in strategically located or mineral-rich countries, have consistently been supported by the United States for the reasons previously suggested.

Thus, the articulation of arguments for a contrary policy—based on justice, commitment to democracy, and other ideals—is typically left to the affected ethnic groups. An example in the recent past is the dictatorship in Greece, in the creation of which the United States played a considerable and unsavory role. American support was drastically curtailed, in large measure, on account of the persistent efforts of Greek Americans. Similarly, the ethical commitment to displaced Jewry after World War II was argued mainly by Jewish Americans, while the State Department and the public at large took little interest. Any ethical commitment to Palestinian Arabs, who had been consistently under foreign domination, was overlooked. There was not a significant Arab-American lobby to promote the cause of the victimized Palestinian Arabs.

It is argued that to insist that the formulation of foreign policy should remain separate from the right of ethnic groups to exert influence would be to abandon a central attribute of a vital democratic state. Ethnic participation in foreign policy is defended as being consistent with the American political ideals of democracy and freedom.

Those opposed to ethnic participation counter by saying that the result of openly sanctioning such political bartering would be a foreign policy in which a president or Congress would risk national survival simply to uphold a political pledge. The safeguard against such a disaster would likely be the general public. The political reality would seem to be that the public would not tolerate a president or a Congress embroiling the United States in some ill-conceived adventure designed to placate a particular group.

Although it would have been popular with a variety of ethnic voters, the Republican Party did not "liberate" eastern Europe from communism following the 1952 election. Republican campaign pledges proved to be insincere, since there was little likelihood that the new administration was actually going to war in order to terminate communist control of eastern Europe. Presented with the opportunity to intervene in the 1956 Hungarian revolt against the Soviet Union, the administration quickly indicated that it would stay uninvolved in that effort to throw off Soviet domination.

The political scientist Lawrence Fuchs, arguing in favor of a close interrelationship between minority group pressure and American diplomacy, has suggested "that foreign policy is too important to be left to the experts." Opponents of the enhanced role that ethnic constituencies have in contemporary foreign policy decision making remain unimpressed. They instead fore-cast grave danger ahead for any coherent national diplomatic agenda if foreign policy continues to be even more of a political football than it has in the past. The question of the appropriateness of mixing ethnicity with foreign policy will no doubt continue to be debated, but even diehard opponents of the phenomenon now concede that ethnicity is probably an inevitable concomitant of the American political process.

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